Working Through the Pain of Paper Clean ups

Last week’s post focused on the potential pain of cleaning up old, orphaned, and abandoned paper files. This week, I’ll break down some strategies to work through the process.

First step is getting your supplies ready so there won’t be delays, or barriers, when you process the paper. If you plan on keeping some, or all, of the paper, prepare for that. Assemble file folders, labels, pens, stapler, paper clips, etc. Make sure you have a box, or file cabinet ready, to store the folders. If you plan on destroying some, or all, of the paper, have a shredder, or fireplace, handy.

I always like to start the process by sorting “like with like.” Before sorting, I set up bags for shred, garbage, and recycling. The keep stuff usually ends up in separate piles for filing. For example, all household bills go in piles, sorted by service type and dates. All health-related stuff in another pile. Even with something as straight forward as this, I still end up with a pile of stuff that remains homeless. Weird odds and ends that just don’t seem to fit anywhere, that I can’t part with.

One tricky part about paper is knowing if you already have an electronic version. I’m confident any tax documents I find from 2017 on are electronic. I submit everything electronically to my accountant, so I know it’s been scanned. These I put in the shred pile.

Many common household bills are now only available electronically. However, some online accounts won’t retain household bills older than 1-2 years. In some cases, it may be useful to retain older ones, either in paper, or electronically, for tax purposes or analysis. This is up to you to decide how far back the information is relevant.

Set realistic limits for yourself. Aim to work in short sprints, such as 10 – 20 minutes daily. Or challenge yourself to get through a certain amount of the pile (e.g., 5 file folders, half a drawer, 2 inches of loose paper). The point is, if doing the whole thing in one sitting is a barrier, find ways to chunk it up into something that feels more manageable. Acknowledging your effort and rewarding yourself is important, too.

And if all this is too much, accept the risks and invest in a good quality shredder. Or (safely) start a small fire.

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